Is it time that Melanesian leaders allow West Papua to sit at the MSG table?


IN anticipation of the upcoming Melanesian Spearhead Group Leader’s Summit in Vanuatu this month, there is a growing call for West Papua to be granted full membership in the organisation.

“The summit is set to be held in July in Port Vila, Vanuatu, which is expected to bring together leaders from Melanesian countries and territories to discuss regional cooperation and address challenges in the sub-region,” West Papuan global campaigner, Raki Ap said.

Mr Ap, who is currently in Solomon Islands, meeting with fellow campaigners and the Solomon Islands Solidarity group for West Papua, remarked that the Melanesian Spearhead Group was founded by Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Vanuatu with the goal of promoting decolonisation and freedom for Melanesian countries and territories in the South Pacific.

He said this is a key value and principle in which current MSG leaders should revisit and use as their sole guide to deliberate on the application of West Papuans.

The forum currently has five full members – Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, PNG, Fiji and the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front of New Caledonia (FLNKS) along with one associate member, Indonesia and two observers, East Timor and West Papua.

Mr Ap said representing West Papua in the forum is Indonesia and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), a political organisation mandated by the indigenous people of West Papua with the purpose of uniting the factions in West Papua.

He added that both camps have however disputed each other’s legitimacy and argue over who truly represents the interests of West Papuans.

Indonesia asserts that its 13 million Melanesian residents gave it the right to represent West Papua in the MSG, whilst West Papuans argue that Indonesia prioritises its own political and economic interests over those of the local population.

Currently, Indonesia holds associate membership in the MSG, granting it limited participation and influence, whilst the ULMWP only has observer status, preventing it from effectively raising concerns about human rights violations and development needs in West Papua.

Meanwhile, Ap highlighted that ULMWP has submitted applications for full membership in 2013 and 2015 but those applications were unsuccessful.

He said the decision on membership rests with the full members of the MSG and consensus amongst the leaders is required, adding that in the past, divisions amongst forum members have hindered West Papua’s bid for full membership.

Nevertheless, Mr Ap revealed that there are signs of increasing support for West Papua’s membership through ULMWP.

The Campaigner for a free West Papua went on to add that, “Encouragingly, Vanuatu, the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, and recently Fiji’s newly elected Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, have all indicated their support. The decisive decision may lie with Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.”

As the International Spokesperson for the Free West Papua Campaign and the Green State Vision, Mr Ap is currently on a speaking tour in the Pacific to raise awareness about the ongoing human rights violations and the environmental crisis in West Papua.

Mr Ap, whose father was assassinated by the Indonesian military, emphasises the importance of West Papua’s full membership in the MSG.

He stressed that the upcoming Melanesian Leader’s Summit will be a crucial one as it will also determine whether West Papua will finally be granted full membership and be allowed to sit at the table with other full MSG members as equals.

“The eyes of Melanesia and the world are on the summit, awaiting the decision of the leaders,” he added.

– SI Solidarity Group for West Papua

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